What are the best practices for data loss prevention?

5 mins

What are the best practices for data loss prevention?The news is full of stories about risin...

What are the best practices for data loss prevention?

The news is full of stories about rising cybercrime, and a clear need for companies to invest in their cyber teams. But whilst protective measures against attacks are crucial, so are the use of preventative steps to safeguard against the passive leaking of data.

The loss of data can have a hugely detrimental impact on a company’s reputation, profitability and client base, not to mention presenting a strong lure for opportunist cyber criminals. Many companies wait until a leak happens before fortifying their systems, but the reality is that the amount of time and energy required for preventing data loss is far less significant than that needed to clear up the fall-out of an attack.

Every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is packed full of data that has numerous handlers and therefore requires a data loss prevention (DLP) strategy to prevent data from being improperly accessed or deleted.

This strategy should focus on the protection of valuable, sensitive or regulated data, such as financial data, intellectual property and internal information such as employee records.

Whilst DLP strategies can take different forms, by and large they will be comprised of numerous aspects, including

The use of DPL technologies – both hardware and software – to protect sensitive information from unauthorised access by identifying, monitoring, filtering, encrypting, and responding to suspicious movements of data, in real-time.

A DLP policy – a set of rules and regulations that protect the company’s assets from unauthorised access or use. This policy will typically cover what types of information are considered confidential, and how that information should be protected.

Why is a DLP policy important?

DLP policies not only protect sensitive information from data breaches but can also help companies to comply with relevant data privacy laws, including GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), and avoid associated legal issues, such as fines and lawsuits.

The first step to creating a policy is selecting which information needs to be protected from unauthorised viewing – in other words, which data is sensitive – next, identifying who has access to it and where it’s stored, and finally establishing rules for how this information should be protected.

But without getting deep into the nitty-gritty, first we want to cover some of the best practices to consider in your data loss prevention approach.

Discover and classify sensitive data

One of the top reasons for data leaks is a lack of knowledge about the data an organisation is sitting on and where it is stored. Information is impossible to protect if you don’t even know that it exists. Therefore, before all else, you must ensure you are aware of all of your organisations’ valuable assets, before classifying which is sensitive and needs extra protection. This will also allow you to keep better tabs on its journey within your organisation and where weaknesses in the chain might lie. Data classification can be performed based on content, context, or user selections and there is software available that can help.

Consider data states

The form that your data takes also needs to be taken into account, as it will define how data flows in your organisation, and shape how you decide to protect it.

Data at rest— Information stored in databases, cloud repositories, computers, laptops, mobile devices and so on.

Data in motion— Data that is being transmitted between parties (for example, during payment transactions).

Data in use— Data that users are actively working with and possibly modifying.

Restrict access to sensitive data

A lack of understanding about who has access to a business’s sensitive data can undermine its data loss prevention strategy. Without knowing who has access to what information, it can be challenging to pinpoint where weaknesses may lie and who needs to be trained on the handling of sensitive data. After identifying who has access, you then need to determine who actually needs access. This can then be further restricted to a time-limited basis, ensuring that users are only granted access to the data they need to perform their role.

Harden your systems

It is also recommended to limit the apps and programmes installed only to those which are vital. By stripping out unnecessary programmes you can lessen the likelihood of unknown vulnerabilities and keep your system as simple and impenetrable as possible.

Use automation whenever possible

Businesses should utilise automation wherever possible in their data leak prevention processes. Not only can automated technologies remove the risk of human error, and save labour by performing repetitive, time-consuming tasks, but they can also identify and respond to anomalous activity.

Pre-defined threat models, and automated threat response software allow businesses to detect the signs of a compromise or security incident and react in real-time before it causes significant damage – a task which would be challenging to complete as an individual employee.

Educate your employees

Periodic security awareness training is vital to guaranteeing that all policies are being enforced and that employees understand the importance of procedures being maintained. There is no use in having a bulletproof system if it is not adhered to by the entire workforce.

And as with any data policy, it isn’t just a one-time fix. Policies need to be continuously monitored and refined to ensure they are still fit for purpose. For example, making sure  a new employee’s access to sensitive data is immediately considered, and staying up to date with any new developments in the market which may elevate security threats such as new cybercrime approaches.

Having people in your workforce with the ability to set up and monitor your data loss prevention strategy is crucial. If you need support in sourcing the best candidates in the market, speak to one of our expert consultants today.